The advertising industry’s watchdog The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) has refused to regulate political ads any longer, following a series of rows about negative campaigning.
The CAP formulates guidelines for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the body which judges complaints about print and poster ads. But the CAP has withdrawn regulations on political ads from its new code launched this week.
The move means non-broadcast political advertising is left without a code of practice, and is governed solely by criminal law and the laws of libel.
The CAP’s decision comes after the main political parties failed to agree on a new formula for monitoring their ads.
The CAP has been threatening to stop policing political ads since the 1997 election, which saw a spate of negative campaigning, including the Conservatives’ infamous “demon eyes” poster.
The ASA found itself powerless to deal with many complaints because political advertising has traditionally been exempt from CAP provisions on honesty, fairness and negative comparisons. The theory was that voters could make up their own minds.
CAP chairman Andrew Brown says: “The ASA could uphold complaints against the Conservatives’ ‘demon eyes’ poster, because it portrayed a person in an offensive way, which was covered by the guidelines.
“But other ads, which would normally have been out of bounds for a commercial organisation, such as ‘Same old Tories, same old lies’, could not be regulated.
“The situation was messy and unsatisfactory, it was part in and part out. The confusion was in danger of bringing the advertising industry into disrepute.”
The Home Office is believed to be looking into setting up a new body to regulate political advertising, and the CAP has offered to help it draught a set of guidelines.